Charles Bradley shows sincerity in third album, ‘Changes’

Daptone Records/Courtesy

Charles Bradley is an underdog whose tale is one of delayed triumph, success and solid inspiration. At 67 years old, Bradley is what one could call a late bloomer — his first foray into music performing as a James Brown impersonator in the 1990s. Yet he hasn’t lingered beneath the Godfather of Funk’s shadow, instead blazing a trail of modern soul music. Blessed with gritty and beautiful vocals, Bradley’s voice drenches every track with emotional intensity and dramatic range.

Changes, Bradley’s third studio album, is one of soulful beauty. It is filled with narratives of love won and lost, lightly charged politics and a combination of modern and vintage sounds knitted together by The Extraordinaries’ instrumentation. Taking cues from 1960s funk and soul, Changes is a modern day soul record — one that shouldn’t be lumped in with vintage albums, as it’s infused with the urgency and modernity of 2016. The synthesis of modernity and retro influences causes Changes to be his most successfully cohesive album to date.

“Changes,” the album’s title track, is a Black Sabbath cover dedicated to his deceased mother. It is a track that is so emotionally unhinged and raw it leaves the listener nearly on the verge of tears. Bradley’s deft vocals nimbly bubble up and around swirling horns, conveying expressive depth and range.

“Ain’t It a Sin” is by far the grooviest and most conceptually clever of the tracks. Brimming with excitement of one who has now gotten back “in the world and set (his) spirit free,” the track throbs with catchy hand-clapping, a funky bassline and churning horns, giving the track a sense of positivity and danceability. Pulsing with tension and energy, Bradley conveys dramatic range and perfectly merges touches of aggressiveness, loathing and pride all at once while delivering very catchy lyrics in his raspy manner.

Bradley incorporates musical motifs throughout the album with “Nobody But You,” which includes a part of Seal and Crofts’ 1972 hit, “Summer Breeze” in a referential horn section. Bradley is able to deliver lines imbued with emotion and desperation in a way that doesn’t seem overwrought or corny but, instead, feels entirely sincere. Changes, perhaps, is one of his most sincere records.

“America, you’ve been real, honest, hurt and sweet to me, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” speak-sings Bradley on “God Bless America.” This is the message of Changes — Bradley understands that life is hard and things change. Yet sharing love and having a belief in the goodness of the future can allow us to continue on. And when Charles Bradley sings this, beautifully entrenched by organs and thudding bass, we might just be able to believe it.

Contact Kayla Oldenburg at [email protected].